So a slight change of pace around here where it comes to reviews. I have posted more than one review of a Gillio planner cover and I do love Gillio, but frankly they’re stupidly expensive. Yes the leather and the craftsmanship are first rate (can’t be beat really) but the vast majority of us can’t, or won’t, spend $300+ on a leather planner cover. And really that’s not surprising, at that rate the planner should honestly organize your life for you.
I have in the last while moved to doing all my planning/day records in my Hobonichi Techo, a lovely little Japanese book that uses Tomoe River paper. Basically the best paper available in the world. It is onion skin thin, but a big wet fountain pen doesn’t bleed through, nothing feathers, you can paint on it with water color if you like. It is heaven for artists and writers. The Hobonichi is a compact Japanese A6 size making it handy for carrying with me. And it is bound together as a little book so the whole year stays together neatly and conveniently. I’ve used a Hobonichi for years but it has only recently become my sole planner. When that happened I invested in a Gillio cover for it, but I wanted to try something a little more practical, simple, and vastly cheaper.
What I finally settled on was a cover by Chic Sparrow. The covers are hand made and very solid. They use a stringed Traveller’s Notebook style system to keep your notebooks (yes you could put multiple in this cover) in place. Four strings in all which gives you a lot of possibility. I use two strings to keep the Techo in place without putting too much pressure on any part of the spine and that’s working just fine so far. In another string I’ve got a little blank notebook for general jotting and the last string is just hanging out as I’ve no use for it. (The “everything” planner people just fainted from shock.) A variety of sizes, styles, and colors are available as well. I chose the A6 size Creme Brulee in the Deluxe style, which means it’s got pockets sewn in rather than just being a flat leather cover.
She’s got loads of options, different leathers and colors, so there’s bound to be something to work for you (so long as you don’t mind a string system.) The planners can also be customized with a short inscription stamped into the front. I did this with mine and it’s quite fetching and well done.
Straight off let’s get this out of the way: Gillio this is not. My Chic Sparrow came neatly packaged (very cute packaging) a little bit of a gift wrap which is always nice. But the moment my hands touched it I was reminded I’d spent a third of what I spent on my last cover. The leather was, frankly, dehydrated. It was so starved for moisture that it felt rough and unpleasant in my hands. If you’re not used to full grain top shelf leather it might have felt just fine to the touch, but I’m spoiled. From the saddle my butt sits, in to my planner cover, I’m used to high quality, well cared for, leather. So out came the saddle conditioner (because if you’re a horse girl you have about 12 different kinds) and before I’d done more than turn the thing over once I was conditioning it. The conditioner darkened the leather a tad (as it does), but the result was leather that no longer felt like it’d been left sitting in the sun on hot concrete for a week. It’s not buttery by any means but it’s not unpleasant to touch now. (As an aside never use anything on your leather products that was not made for leather, not skin cream, not olive oil, nothing. If you are unsure go to a tack shop and explain your issue. Their products are made to keep saddles, bridles and other tack worth thousands in not only good shape but safe shape. Get real leather products.)
Another notch in the Chic Sparrow’s favor is it’s layout. Most of these TN style covers lack pockets which just doesn’t work for me. The Chic Sparrow can be had without them if you want light and portable, or with them. In the front there are two little slip pockets and one large pocket behind those. The back has one secretarial pocket. So there’s plenty of room to stash stickers or post it notes, receipts, whatever you want handy with your planner or journal. It does not however do the “wallet replacement” thing many folks do with their Gillio. I would not trust my cards to the small slip pockets. The leather used on the pockets is much thiner than the rest of the cover and I actually prefer it, it’s soft and subtle though it is already wearing and scuffing in places that makes me a little less than sure how it will hold up long term. (It would almost certainly stretch if stuff too full so use care.)
This sort of stringed system makes it easy to swap out notebooks and anything smaller than the strings will fit just fine, no need to be fussy or buy anything fancy. So I use small TN style notebooks with my A6 for scratch and note paper. I’ve been using my Chic Sparrow for about almost two months now. And it absolutely beats the Gillio on one front: the pen loop is actually functional. That’s right, the pen loop on my Gillio A6 notebook is too small to slide even a slim pen down in, and too far up the book to use without a pen slid all the way to the clip stop (which it’s too small to allow you to do). I’m baffled by such a glaring issue, but as you can see above the Chic Sparrow accommodates my fountain pen just fine and keeps it snugged up inside the cover where it’s fairly protected. It doesn’t mess with the book or crinkle the pages either. Well done.
I did have to make an adjustment to the strings, the knot that secures them was originally in such a place that it would be inside the middle of your notebook. This makes no sense, as no one wants to write on an enormous lump. With some fiddling I managed to move the knot down to the very bottom of the cover so it sits just outside my notebook now but I shouldn’t have had to do that, in my opinion the knot should be outside the binder but that’s a design quibble and others would disagree. The stitching is neat and even, and the whole thing is holding up well and really does toss in and out of my bag without any worry about wear and tear. These are all great plusses.
As to whether or not you might want a Chic Sparrow? That comes down to budget and taste. Above is a picture of my Chic Sparrow (with Hobonichi inside) and my Gillio cover for the same book. As you can see the Gillio is refined, light, thin. It adds very little bulk to the Hobonichi. (And does have real credit card slots and an inner zip pocket for serious security. The Chic Sparrow is rough, the leather is simply thick. The finish is far more rustic and it remains to be seen if those strings running through the pages will damage the binding. I’m torn on this one folks. It works, it does. Mostly it works by disappearing. I don’t think about it, I just use my notebook. A Gillio you appreciate every time you touch it. Many of the features on the Chic Sparrow are very well thought out but the quality and thickness of the leather are a bit disappointing. This cover is a toss up. (Note: it also does not come with bookmarks for your Hobonichi so you will need to buy or make your own as I have done.) You are absolutely paying for the maker’s time here, not the materials. I for one would be happy to pay a bit more for upgraded leather quality (especially thinner leather and better edge finishing).
Verdict: Worth the cost, room for improvement.
Cost: $64 + $5 for the engraving.